Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Seasons Of Fun

Little more than a stone's throw from the cottage there is a dock on the river.  In the summer an otter can be seen scampering up the launch from the water and running along the grassy easement.  The dock, retaining wall, rocks and fence are items in this creature's playground.  As agile as an Olympic gymnast it moves to its own music providing entertainment for all who watch.

For months year after year this otter will arrive day after day.  In Otters Love to Play (Candlewick Press, March 22, 2016) written by Jonathan London with illustrations by Meilo So readers come to understand the lively nature of an otter family through the seasons.  They find time to play every single day.

Is that a beaver lodge?

Otters have been known to occupy abandoned lodges adding an aboveground entrance. In the spring from one to six pups (babies) are born.  After the birth the mother usually chases the father away.  

Within two months the little otters are allowed to leave the den, releasing all their energy in play.  Their play helps them to survive enhancing their hunting skills.  As spring blends into summer the babies learn to swim.  Did you know they can, as adults, swim up to seven miles per hour?

Before autumn arrives their mother teaches them to find and catch their own food.  Their whiskers help them detect their next meal.  Winter weather does not deter otters from enjoying the out-of-doors.  As it does in the other seasons play assists in their ability to endure, increasing their fur's attributes.

Despite their smaller stature otters have few natural enemies.  If necessary the adult females will scare and chase away potential threats.   When spring comes the yearlings are ready to romp.

Jonathan London was written two separate texts for this book.  In a larger font an easier, more conversational narrative tells us about the otter family.  Placed usually, but not always, at the bottom of most pages in a smaller font and different style specific details deepen our knowledge.  London's word choices and sentences while informing us also convey a real sense of the energetic lifestyle of otters.  Here are some sample passages.

When otters aren't busy frolicking or hunting, they scent-mark the area near home to warn intruders away.

The otters jump into a pile of fallen leaves, and one of them pops up with a pebble!  He rolls on his back and juggles the pebble between his two front paws.

Rendered in watercolor the illustrations, beginning with the matching dust jacket and book case, convey a very real sense of play.  There is fluidity to the brush strokes and finer lines.  The image on the front of the jacket and case extends over the spine to the left and back.  The otters on the river bank are enjoying a good wrestle.  Under the water the other two swim with ease for pleasure or in pursuit of a meal.  The green used in the grasses, leaves and reeds along the shore provides the plain background color for the opening and closing endpapers.

On the title page the three otter pups frame the text in playful poses.  With the exception of four pages Meilo So has painted illustrations spanning two pages.  Each of them is a careful, realistic portrait transporting readers to the otters' world.  

She gives us panoramic views of the river and takes us inside the den for a closer perspective.  We may zoom in to watch the mother drop her pups in the river or step back to see all of them playing around a dock.  (The technique of hundreds of tiny dots swirling around the otters as they swim around the dock is fabulous.)  We are aware of the nearly constant motion in which the otters go about their days. 

Many of these illustrations are worthy of framing but one of my favorites is when So brings us close to two otters playing tug-of-war.  One is on the bank and the other is sitting on a nearby rock sticking up out of the water.  Between them is a slender stick or sturdy reed which they hold in their mouths.  The otter on the rock is using its paws to maintain its hold.  Graceful pink flowers and grasses frame the otters on the right and left.  In the background, on the opposite river bank, are rows of trees.  Meilo So has painted them with less detail to indicate their distance from the otters.  

The enthusiasm in which otters embrace their day to day existence is superbly displayed in text and images in Otters Love to Play written by Jonathan London with illustrations by Meilo So.  After having watched otters in the wild for many summers in northern Michigan, this book fills numerous gaps in my comprehension of why they do what they do.  When you know the extra details about an animal's life it enriches your experiences with them.  I highly recommend this book for your personal and professional shelves.  At the close of the title an index is included as well as a reference to the importance of the two different font sizes and styles.  It is stated:

Don't forget to look at both kinds of words: this kind and this kind.

An About Otters page gives us additional facts to ponder.

To discover more about Jonathan London and Meilo So, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  At two publisher sites you can view two different interior images.  They are Candlewick Press and Walker.  This link to papertigers.org provides you with more information about Meilo So. 

Remember to check out the other titles selected by bloggers participating in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge at educator Alyson Beecher's blog, Kid Lit Frenzy.  


  1. I am jealous of your wild otter sightings! I love hanging out near the otters at the zoo, but I've never seen one in the wild. I agree with you about the art in this book--gorgeous!

    1. Oh, Annette seeing that otter play at the dock day after day was the highlight of several of my summers. When nature and our worlds overlap, it's like a gift. I handle them with care. This might be my favorite book by Meilo So.

  2. My family owned a cabin in the past, and we used to watch otters in a nearby river-so wonderful to see. You've made this book one that is a 'must-have', Margie. Thanks for sharing so much that you loved about it.

    1. I really like that we have a connection Linda with both having cottages on or near a river. I hope you can get a copy of this title soon. It's a nonfiction gem. And you are welcome.

  3. I really enjoyed this title as it made me think about when we have spotted otters near the ocean on some of our summer trips. I also loved the art in this book.

  4. It's seems to be the summer of otters. We have a whole display of otter books and yet this somehow slipped past me!

  5. I interned at an aquarium for a summer in college and became quite expert in identifying and differentiating between river and sea otters, but let's be honest, they're all wonderful!

  6. LOVE otters & I loved this book too! One visited my husband's workplace, but sadly it was only for one day. So happy they've made a come-back. You would love the video of the otter & the dog as playmates. I'll see if I can find it again for you!